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How to Get Serbian Citizenship by Exception

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What do Johnny Depp, Steven Seagal, and Ralph Fiennes have in common? 

Well, apart from the obvious fact that they are all famous actors, each of them has been granted honorary Serbian citizenship. 

However, as famous as these movie stars are, achieving honorary Serbian citizenship is not the preserve of only movie stars and wealthy footballers. If you can prove that your skills, job or business idea can benefit Serbia, you may also be considered for membership of what is quite an elite club. 

Serbian citizenship confers plenty of benefits for those looking for citizenship and does not require you to stay in the country after obtaining it. 

A Serbian passport grants access to 135 countries visa-free, including China and Russia. Quite apart from anything else, Serbia is one of the best countries when it comes to having a Plan-B second citizenship.

The Balkan Republic, located in Europe’s south-eastern region, is a landlocked territory that is bordered by countries such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Croatia and Montenegro.

Its stunning capital, Belgrade, one of the oldest cities in the world, is home to around 1.4 million people. The city is a bustling contemporary hub full of old-world charm, architectural gems, lively nightlife and wonderful restaurants. To the east of the country, you find the stunning landscapes of the Dinaric Alps and Carpathian forests.

Serbian Citizenship by Exception

Geographically and culturally, Serbia has a foot in both the east and west. A predominantly Orthodox Christian country with historic ties to Russia, Serbia is currently seeking European Union (EU) membership.

Serbia is certainly a place that should be on everyone’s list to explore and discover. This Western-friendly but Eastern-looking nation offers something distinctly different – something you may not have experienced before –which is good reason to consider the available routes to obtain Serbian citizenship. 

What is Citizenship by Exception?

There are multiple ways to obtain a second citizenship in Serbia. The most popular options include citizenship by naturalisation, birth, marriage, descent and investment. One frequently overlooked and misunderstood option is citizenship by exception (CBE). 

Citizenship by exception means that you can be approved using an exception rule that allows the Serbian government to admit you and your family to a particular Serbian citizenship program if such a move is in the state’s special interest. 

CBE is sometimes confused with citizenship by investment (CBI). That’s because some countries offer citizenship on the basis of receiving an investment or contribution. However, unlike CBE, there are standard criteria for accepting or rejecting the applicant with CBI.

On the other hand, CBE means you’re approved directly by the President or the Government. So, unlike the usual routes to obtain citizenship where some degree of right exists, discretion over the final decision to approve someone’s citizenship is based purely on a subjective view of whether it will benefit the country. 

In short, CBE is where parliament, a president or a prime minister has the power to grant citizenship, usually based on the exceptional merit of the person applying. You should note that the CBE route does require you to contribute some money to the country in order to achieve citizenship.

But the difference between this program (CBE) and citizenship by investment (CBI) is that CBI is an official program. CBE is not official and its process of determining eligibility for citizenship based on merit, rests entirely in the hands of the government and the president.

Serbian Citizenship by Exception

When considering how to use CBE to gain a Serbian passport, it’s important to note that economic criteria, like having a successful business, are not the only options. 

Economic activity is one element, but five broad categories are acceptable for citizenship by exception – business, technology, science, sports and culture.

While these are broad categories, successfully applying for CBE usually requires some unique achievement, skill or professional experience and qualifications. Your skills and achievements must also be relevant to Serbia and its interests. 

Just as starting a business in Serbia and bringing in investment and jobs is a critical measure of achieving CBE, having a unique skillset or an expertise in a profession that has a high impact on the Serbian market will be valuable. 

The Serbian Government’s goal is to attract people who enrich society. At the same time, it’s looking for a unique talent or skill that can benefit its people and, in return, the Republic of Serbia is offering foreign nationals all the rights conferred to Serbian citizens.

By attracting successful entrepreneurs and highly skilled professionals, the country can benefit economically. However, there is no one size fits all approach to the CBE process; each case is unique and based on different circumstances. 

The central benefit of this Serbian citizenship program is that you can bypass many of the criteria that would normally be required, such as a language test. 

Serbian citizenship is granted after three years of permanent residence in the country for the naturalisation process and the investor visa program. But it could happen quicker than that – with CBE, if the state decides it’s in its best interest, your application could be fast-tracked with an expectation, or at least a hope, that you’ll have a decision in a few months. 

In such circumstances, there is no requirement to have a permanent residence permit, to demonstrate sufficient financial means or to renounce your current citizenship. 

Applying for Serbian Citizenship by Exception

The process of obtaining Serbian citizenship by exception is similar to other foreign citizenship applications, but the paperwork required is less extensive than, for example, citizenship by investment. 

That said, the paperwork you need to submit must be well presented, formatted correctly and translated. It must also clearly demonstrate how you can improve the country if your application to become a Serbian citizen is approved.

Applying for Serbian Citizenship by Exception

As such, the CBE application process is relatively straightforward and does not require as much personal effort as you’d imagine. Most of the work is done by lawyers who must prepare and submit your application to the Serbian police.

However, the process to acquire this foreign citizenship does require you to visit Belgrade in Serbia on two occasions – the first to start the legal process and the second to collect your passport and ID card if approved. You can expect to spend about 13 business days in total over the course of these two visits. 

If opening a company in Serbia, company formation documents must be prepared in advance. In Serbia, the process begins with an appointment with a lawyer to notarise the documents. 

The application to open a business is then submitted electronically to the Agency for Business Registers before an account is opened with a local bank.

After this is done, the police authority reviews the application and forwards it to the Serbian ministry, at which point the Prime Minister of Serbia decides whether it will be accepted. 

The documents needed include:

  • Original birth certificate or certified copy
  • Copy of passport
  • Police clearance letter from your home country
  • Curriculum vitae and/or copy of the business plan
  • Incorporation documents.

CBE and Taxes in Serbia

Acquiring citizenship by exception in the Republic of Serbia does not automatically require you to pay taxes there. So, you will not be taxed if you live in Serbia without triggering tax residence. However, if you spend at least 183 days a year or own a home or business there, you will be considered a tax resident so, naturally, you will have a tax residence elsewhere and be paying to another country. 

If you do trigger tax residency in Serbia, expect to pay taxes there on your worldwide income. That said, Serbia has one of the lowest tax rates in Europe: Serbia’s corporate tax rate is 15%, while personal income tax ranges between 10% and 20% based on the type of income. There are no wealth taxes. 

Serbia also has tax treaties with over 60 countries so, if you come from a tax treaty country, you will avoid being taxed twice. 

Overall, Serbia has a favourable business environment which does not impose restrictions on foreign business ownership or hiring local workers. 

How to Get Serbian Citizenship by Exception: FAQs

How can I become a Serbian citizen? 

There are a limited number of options to obtain Serbian citizenship. Serbia offers citizenship by descent (CBD), by naturalisation, birth and marriage and, on rare occasions, by exception. 

How good is a Serbian passport? 

Serbian citizens and passport holders can visit 85 countries without obtaining a visa, with an additional 50 countries if you count locations that offer eTAs and visas on arrival. A Serbian passport grants access to countries many Western passports don’t, including China and Russia. 

What language do they speak in Serbia? 

Serbian is the official language, a Slavic Indo-European language related to Polish and Russian. English is also widely spoken in the country. 

Does Serbia have obligatory military service?

As of 2011, Serbia no longer has mandatory military service.

Do I need to be of Serbian descent to qualify for citizenship?

If you’re applying for citizenship by descent in Serbia, you will need to prove your nationality and ancestral lineage. However, other forms of citizenship, including CBE and CBI, do not require Serbian ancestry. 

Does the Republic of Serbia allow dual citizenship?

Yes, the Republic of Serbia allows dual citizenship. You do not need to renounce any other citizenship to obtain Serbian citizenship, meaning dual citizenship is permitted. 

How do I get permanent residency in Serbia?

The Serbian government may grant foreign nationals in Serbia a permanent residence visa if they have resided continuously in the Republic of Serbia for at least three years, with no more than 183 days outside the country each year.

Serbia: the Perfect Plan-B Citizenship?

With Serbian citizenship, you can choose whether to live there, visit occasionally or hold your passports for a time when you may need them. 

Whether as part of a plan to go where you’re treated best by living in different places throughout the year or as a backup country to relocate to, Serbian citizenship is a fantastic option. 

At Nomad Capitalist, we always advocate having a Plan B for international diversification. So, why limit yourself to one country? From a tax planning, asset protection and lifestyle standpoint, it makes sense to have an option in your back pocket just in case things change in your home country.  

Welcome to the Republic of Serbia

With its proximity to Europe and the East, Serbia is a tax-friendly country that offers abundant business and travel opportunities. If you can show that by becoming a Serbian citizen, you will promote the nation, assist it financially or bring your unique attributes, the country will welcome you with open arms. 

And while the decision on your citizenship application remains at the government’s discretion, the exception can be the rule in this case. If you’re considering Serbian citizenship, you will have to plan it properly because the process requires some local knowledge. 

That’s where Nomad Capitalist comes in. 

We help seven- and eight-figure entrepreneurs and investors create a bespoke strategy using our uniquely successful methods. That will allow you to keep more of your own money, create new wealth faster and be protected from whatever happens in just three steps. 

At Nomad Capitalist, we have a network of lawyers, estate agents, accountants, and tax and company formation specialists all around the world. All that expertise and real-world experience come together when we advise your holistic, bespoke action plan. Discover how we do things here.

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